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The Sex Life of Puppets (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Sex Life of Puppets

Society: London (professional shows)

Venue: Southwark Playhouse. 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Credits: Written and directed by Mark Down and Ben Keaton. Presented by Blind Summit Theatre

Type: Sardines

Author: Susan Elkin

Performance Date: 05/01/2024

The Sex Life of Puppets

Susan Elkin | 08 Jan 2024 00:21am

Photo: Nigel Bewley

Take four fine puppeteers, wonderfully evocative puppets by Russell Dean and some of the most wittily astute writing I’ve heard in a while (Mark Down and Ben Keaton) and you’re in for a bit of treat.

The backbone of this show is a series of interviews with people – sorry, puppets – sitting on he edge of a table and talking. And it’s sex they’re talking about, mostly with a well observed witty poignancy. There’s the middle class pair who are having a Wednesday affair in which everything is “fun”, a rather more gor-blimey pair of lesbians whose vaginas are like mirrors talking to one another, the elderly gay men in a care home where blow jobs are the best they’ve ever known because you can take your teeth out and the older woman who’s tired of her husband’s “pumping and pumping” on top of her on Friday nights and longs for single beds – and her vibrator. And those are just examples. There are more. The show consists of a series of scenes.

The joke, of course, is that these things – even in 2024 – tend not to be chatted casually about in ordinary conversation and all these characters talk without inhibition. Moreover they are situations we all recognise. Eventually one couple actually have se

x in full view and it’s very funny indeed especially when the puppet barks at the puppeteer “get my legs” because they’re hanging off the table.

The four puppeteers – three men and a woman – provide fabulous, versatile voice work for the puppets with beautifully judged timing. Part of the skill is to let the puppets talk through movement so there are gaps in the speech and these operators are very good at that. Of course they’re exaggerated for comic effect but every one of these characters and types is recognisable.

Less successful is a shadow puppet sequence at the end of the first half which graphically shows every possible sort of penetration. It’s ingenious but nothing like as interesting as the interviews. I’m not sure what the naked puppet orgy to Widor’s Toccata and Fugue adds at the very end either. It’s amusing because it’s manic and unlikely but it goes on too long. I can see though that you need some sort of dramatic ending to a show like this but this solution did nothing for me. Neither of these scenes detracted much from the overall effectiveness of the show, though

A few years ago, Little Angel Theatre, which specialises in puppetry and children’s shows, ran a festival of work for adults. The shows I saw then were obscure and dull and I concluded that maybe puppetry doesn’t work for adults. The Sex Life of Puppets proves that I was wrong. It can work very well.

This is a refreshingly original, very funny show.

First published by Sardines


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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